Analysis:

Take 5: The most meaningful games for UNLV football’s 2013 season

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Steve Marcus

Rebels Coach Bobby Hauck during the first practice at UNLV Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013.

In just more than two weeks, UNLV will begin its 2013 season on the road at Minnesota. At this point almost anything is still possible.

The Rebels could go up there and steal a victory, thus snapping a long road losing streak and instilling confidence in a group that hasn’t had a lot of that under coach Bobby Hauck. Or UNLV could get crushed and limp home unsure of its abilities. Right now it’s all on the table.

That’s what makes the season opener one of the five most meaningful games for the Rebels this year. With a fresh start there's reason for optimism. Hauck would tell you every game matters the same, but around here we have our eyes on a few specific dates that will determine what type of season UNLV will have.

From that first game to the last one and a few in between, there are dates on the schedule that stand out a little more than others. Click through to see what makes these games stand out.

    • At Minnesota

      Thursday, Aug. 29, 4 p.m., Big Ten Network

      Rebels football

      Will the UNLV football team have a winning record at any point during 2013?
      Yes — 58.2%
      No — 41.8%

      This poll is closed, see Full Results »

      Note: This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

      It’s the 2013 season opener, the first chance for UNLV to get on the field against another team and see if this, finally, is the year things will be different.

      For the second straight season the Rebels open against Minnesota. This time it’s on the road, where UNLV will try to snap its 22-game losing streak. In last year’s opener, which was also on a Thursday night, the Rebels lost 30-27 in triple overtime.

      While the Gophers aren’t exactly a Big Ten power, hopes are high in the Twin Cities. In his previous two stops — Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois — coach Jerry Kill posted double-digit victories in his third seasons. While no one’s really expecting that in Year Three at Minnesota, the Golden Gophers do expect to do reasonably well against a slate that also includes Mountain West newcomer San Jose State (Sept. 21).

      If UNLV is going to make a statement this year, this is their chance to do it. And even a close loss would create a little excitement about the Rebels’ home opener against Arizona on Sept. 7.

    • Western Illinois

      Saturday, Sept. 21, 6 p.m.

      One of UNLV’s many goals is to get to a point where this game is a complete afterthought, as it would be for most Division I programs. Minnesota plays the Leathernecks the week before the Rebels get them, and you can bet the Gophers and their fans don’t have that game circled.

      But when a team has a Division I-AA loss in each of the past two seasons, this game matters. It matters because it’s as good a chance as any to show that things will be different.

      The Rebels should come into the game with at least one victory, most likely the previous week at home against Central Michigan. If things go as planned, UNLV would win this one easily and go into the bye week no worse than .500. With winnable games up ahead, that would be an ideal position.

    • At New Mexico

      Saturday, Sept. 28, 5 p.m.

      Prediction: If UNLV doesn’t snap its road losing streak by this game, it won’t at all this season.

      Odds are the Rebels will go into this game with the streak at 23 games, dating back to a 34-17 victory in Albuquerque back in 2009. During that stretch only one of the losses was in single digits: two years ago at New Mexico (21-14).

      Add those favorable numbers to the fact that UNLV defeated the Lobos 35-7 last season and you’ve got the recipe for as close to a must-win road game as this team will face. New Mexico again figures to be one of the league’s bottom feeders and it’s triple option offense makes UNLV’s porous secondary much less of a liability.

      Simply put, if the Rebels can’t win in Albuquerque, where can they win?

    • At UNR

      Saturday, Oct. 26, TBA, ESPN Networks

      This game is probably the most important on the schedule year in and year out. Defeating the rivals from up north can sweeten an otherwise bad season or add the cherry on top of a respectable campaign.

      UNLV hasn’t won the Fremont Cannon since 2004. That’s so long many may not even remember what it looks like painted in red.

      Other than this game being on the road — which is a UNLV hurdle we’ve already discussed — the opportunity is there for UNLV to snap its eight-game Cannon losing streak. The Wolf Pack has a change at the top with Chris Ault stepping away and Brian Polian taking over.

      UNR returns less than half of its starters on defense and will rely heavily on junior Cody Fajardo to score enough to make up for any defensive deficiencies.

      And don’t forget, UNLV led by as much as 21 last year before UNR rallied back for a 42-37 victory. Whatever happens this year, winning this game would make a lot of people feel like the Rebels accomplished something.

    • UNLV quarterback Nick Sherry looks for an open receiver against San Diego State during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, in San Diego.

      San Diego State

      Saturday, Nov. 30, TBA, ESPN Networks

      This carries more importance for the date than the opponent. It’s the last game of the year for both teams and it will be interesting to see what UNLV has to play for at this point.

      I’m not expecting a bowl game to be on the line, but there should be some pride that was absent from the late November beatdown at Hawaii last year.

      Just like there’s something to learn about the team in how they play in the season’s first game, so too can we draw conclusions from how the team wraps things up. Whatever happens between now and then, it would be a good sign of improvement for the team to battle until the end and play a close game with the defending co-champs.

    Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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